Home > Dollars & Sense, The Body Politic > Treasury on Rail. Let’s play a little game, shall we?

Treasury on Rail. Let’s play a little game, shall we?

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NZ Treasury muppets

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Treasury’s latest ‘brain fart’ was this amazing story, which I repost, verbatim, from a Radio NZ report;

Close down rail, advised the Treasury

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Updated at 6:08 pm on 9 July 2015
Brent Edwards, Political Editor – brent.edwards@radionz.co.nz

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The Labour Party has accused the Treasury of being “nuts” for suggesting the country’s rail network should be closed because it costs too much.

In Budget documents released today the Treasury estimated the net social cost of supporting KiwiRail at between $55 million and $170 million a year.

In the paper the Treasury recommended the Government just fund KiwiRail for one more year while undertaking a comprehensive study to look at closing the rail company.

It said the study should be done publicly so that people were informed of the costs of running the rail network compared with any benefits it provided.

The Government rejected the idea.

Labour’s transport spokesperson Phil Twyford criticised the Treasury for even raising the suggestion.

“This proposal by Treasury for the Government to consider actually shutting down the rail network is just nuts and it shows that Treasury doesn’t really understand transport economics and they certainly don’t get rail.

“You know rail should be for decades and decades to come, it should be alongside the road system, the backbone of New Zealand’s transport system … To shut down, even to contemplate shutting down this valuable part of our nation’s infrastructure is barmy,” Mr Twyford said.

While government ministers rejected the idea initially they only intended providing money for KiwiRail for this financial year.

But a later paper reveals it agreed to a two-year funding commitment after the company expressed worries about its long-term planning if it had only one year of funding confirmed.

In its analysis the Treasury said rail had high fixed costs and it faced a challenge trying to reduce them.

It said the options for the business were to make relatively small changes to the existing network or significantly downsize it, including closing it altogether.

Another option was to shut down most of its operations but keep freight business for Auckland to Hamilton to Tauranga only as that part of the network carried most freight and covered most of its costs.

It warned KiwiRail posed considerable risk to the Government and was unlikely to ever be profitable.

“Treasury believes there is a net economic cost of continuing to fund rail at the levels required. The net social cost is estimated at between $55 million and $170 million per annum based on a national cost benefit analysis.

“Whilst some of the assumptions underlying analysis of this nature are subjective and some require further work to validate, Treasury believes that it will not change the conclusion that there is a net social cost of continuing to fund rail.”

It recommended a public study of the implications of shutting KiwiRail down so the Government could make the most informed choice possible.

Phil Twyford said he agreed there should be an in-depth study on the value of rail to the economy.

Mr Twyford said the fallacy in the Treasury thinking was that the rail system, including the rail tracks, should be run as a profit making business. Nowhere in the world did that happen.

He said the rail tracks were simply like the country’s roads and nobody expected the roads to make a profit.

A spokesman for Finance Minister Bill English said the Government had set aside $400 million for KiwiRail over the next two years.

“But before undertaking an investment of this size, it is appropriate that officials look at all options – including options for line closures.

“As we said in May, the Government is committed to a national rail network, but ongoing subsidies of around $200 million per year are unsustainable. The funding provided at the Budget gives the KiwiRail board a two-year window to identify savings and reduce the level of ongoing Crown funding required,” he said.

The craziness of this suggestion can best be illustrated if we make a few changes to the story, and re-post it;

Close down roads, advised the Treasury

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Updated at 6:08 pm on 9 July 2015
Brent Edwards, Political Editor – brent.edwards@radionz.co.nz

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The Labour Party has accused the Treasury of being “nuts” for suggesting the country’s roading network should be closed because it costs too much.

In Budget documents released today the Treasury estimated the net social cost of supporting National Land Transport roading at $3.891 billion a year.

In the paper the Treasury recommended the Government just fund roading for one more year while undertaking a comprehensive study to look at closing the National Land Transport Programme.

It said the study should be done publicly so that people were informed of the costs of running the roading network compared with any benefits it provided.

The Government rejected the idea.

Labour’s transport spokesperson Phil Twyford criticised the Treasury for even raising the suggestion.

“This proposal by Treasury for the Government to consider actually shutting down the road network is just nuts and it shows that Treasury doesn’t really understand transport economics and they certainly don’t get roads.

“You know roads should be for decades and decades to come, it should be alongside the rail system, the backbone of New Zealand’s transport system … To shut down, even to contemplate shutting down this valuable part of our nation’s infrastructure is barmy,” Mr Twyford said.

While government ministers rejected the idea initially they only intended providing money for  for this financial year.

But a later paper reveals it agreed to a two-year funding commitment after the company expressed worries about its long-term planning if it had only one year of funding confirmed.

In its analysis the Treasury said roading had high fixed costs and it faced a challenge trying to reduce them.

It said the options for the business were to make relatively small changes to the existing network or significantly downsize it, including closing it altogether.

Another option was to shut down most of its operations but keep freight business for Auckland to Hamilton to Tauranga only as that part of the highway network carried most freight and covered most of its costs.

It warned National Land Transport posed considerable risk to the Government and was unlikely to ever be profitable.

“Treasury believes there is a net economic cost of continuing to fund road at the levels required. The net social cost is estimated at $3.891 billion a year per annum based on a national cost benefit analysis.

“Whilst some of the assumptions underlying analysis of this nature are subjective and some require further work to validate, Treasury believes that it will not change the conclusion that there is a net social cost of continuing to fund roads.”

It recommended a public study of the implications of shutting National Land Transport down so the Government could make the most informed choice possible.

Phil Twyford said he agreed there should be an in-depth study on the value of roading to the economy.

Mr Twyford said the fallacy in the Treasury thinking was that the roading system, including the highways, should be run as a profit making business. Nowhere in the world did that happen.

He said the highways were simply like the country’s railways and nobody expected Kiwirail to make a profit.

A spokesman for Finance Minister Bill English said the Government had set aside $7.782 billion for roading over the next two years.

“But before undertaking an investment of this size, it is appropriate that officials look at all options – including options for highway closures.

“As we said in May, the Government is committed to a national road network, but ongoing subsidies of around $3.891 billion per year are unsustainable. The funding provided at the Budget gives the National Land Transport board a two-year window to identify savings and reduce the level of ongoing Crown funding required,” he said.

Barmy?

You bet.

The young folk at Treasury need to get out more often and engage in illicit drug use; binge drinking; and  random sex. It would be no more pointless than some of the gormless ideas they come up with.

In case anyone thinks that Treasury’s idea is remotely “clever”, consider the number of passenger trips by rail each year;

Auckland: 13 million

Wellington: 11.9 million

Total: 24.9 million

That is nearly 25 million extra car-trips on the road in both cities.

It does not take a bright young thing employed by Treasury to quickly realise the impact that would have on our city roads. In brief; Auckland and Wellington would grind to a halt. Our economy would collapse within a week.

We should be looking at ways to maximise use of rail, not canning it. Anything that takes cars and trucks of our roads is a major benefit to our economy and environment.

Perhaps I was wrong and there is illicit drug taking amongst some Treasury boffins. Someone has been at the marijuana cookie-jar. What other explanation can there be for this bizarre idea?

Addendum1

Road

The largest element of the Vote is the funding for roading ($3,891 million or 91% of the total Vote). This is primarily the funding for the National Land Transport Programme which is funded from road tax revenue collected by the Crown ($3,014 million or 71% of the Vote).

Vote Transport, Budget 2015

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References

Radio NZ: Close down rail, advised the Treasury

NZ Treasury: Vote Transport Overview

NZ Herald: Auckland rail passenger numbers top 13 million

Dominion Post: Record Wellington train use set to stave off fare increases

Previous related blogposts

Letter to the Editor – User Pays is not a very clever solution

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roads of national significance.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 11 July 2015.

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= fs =

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  1. Mooloo magic
    18 July 2015 at 6:33 pm

    An incoming Labour led Government must review Treasury, as it has been hi-jacked by Neo-liberal gnomes who are totally immersed and brain washed by the lunacy of neo-classical economics. A new government must clean out Treasury and appoint people who are realistic and provide sound advice to government, not the absurdness that Treasury currently serve up.

    • 18 July 2015 at 7:11 pm

      Why not, Mooloo?

      After all, the Nats have been busy stacking University boards; ECANN; CERA; hospital boards; various sundry quangos and other organisations…

      Time we started using the same tactics.

      I’ll put my hand up to sit on a dozen or two Boards.

      • Mooloo magic
        19 July 2015 at 7:13 pm

        National’s crony appointment to various boards and organisations is something that seems to have escaped the attention of the media.

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